I’m going to miss you, Joe.

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Joe with Kayley and Sawyer via @ChrisWejr

I’m really going to miss you, Joe.

I met Joe five or six years ago. And since then we have only hung out maybe ten times. Yet, my sense of loss is profound.

Joe was a hero of mine. Not because we cared about the same things. Nor is it because of the discipline behind so much prolific writing – which you have to admire. He was a hero because of his courage. Speaking out against status quo assumptions before hundreds of teachers, debating testing experts on CBC, writing for newspapers, even filming himself in his office, talking about assessment and publishing it to youtube – all of these are acts most of us wouldn’t commit to doing.

Joe did them as often as he could.

Joe was a passionate idealist but firmly grounded in the realities of current teaching practice. He was incredibly generous. I remember him cutting off my invitation/pitch to speak at our last edcamp, with, “You had me at hello, Paul”.

Flames with Joe
At Flames game following first Calgary EdCamp with Joe and @courosa

He was so funny and quick witted. Joe and Dave (@d_martin), another Red Deer educator I greatly admire, were hilarious when they stayed at my place the night before an EdCamp in their banter and good-natured put-downs of each other.

Another of Joe’s many projects was a book he co-edited and published with Paul Thomas. Among my favourite excerpts from “de-testing and de-grading schools” (a book I hope you will read), is in a chapter from John Hoben. While Joe’s name is synonymous with moving beyond grading and testing, I highlighted this excerpt because I felt it closely describes Joe’s vision for the future of schooling:

We need to learn to see the tragic human costs of an accountability movement radically divorced from both the everyday realities faced by teachers’ and students’ curious and imaginative minds. This awareness is the backdrop for an expanded sense of care, one that opens the way for a new age of intimate revolt in schooling and that is capable of distinguishing between learning interactions that genuinely transform students and those that wound through disciplinary tactics.  -John Hoben (p. 179) (emphasis added)

Through story and articulate argument, Joe brought so many of us to a new understanding of grading and testing. He helped create a space where we can have such conversations seriously without being dismissed out of hand. Joe saw the potential of what schooling can be for kids, if we would just be thoughtful and consider, for a moment, that some of our most fundamental traditional structures in schooling may contribute to a culture that alienates kids from the experience of learning.

Joe understood that we are so embedded in such cultures that we are like fish who don’t know they are wet. As teachers, for example, we needed research based Formative Assessment Theory (Black and Wiliam, 1998) to tell us that students become more engaged and learn well when we give them timely and actionable feedback related to what they are learning. Why did we need research to tell us that? Why, after 15 or more years since the emergence of such research do we find it difficult to move beyond grading and testing? Why do books on the topic often fall into the category of “radical” scholarship?

Joe dedicated himself to helping us come to new and thoughtful understandings about assessment. He knew that with such awareness comes “an expanded sense of care” among all who work with children in schools and one that might allow for an “intimate revolt” firmly focused on “a love of learning” and what is possible when we practice this way.

Thank you, Joe. I’m really going to miss you.




Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning.Assessment in education, 5(1), 7-74.

Bower, J., & Thomas, P. L. (Eds.). (2013). De-testing and de-grading schools: Authentic alternatives to accountability and standardization.